Thursday, Dec. 12, 2002

The Pirate Hunter by Richard Zacks

It was all a frame-up. Captain Kidd, legendary scourge of the high seas, was actually a good guy, commissioned by the King of England in the 1600s to catch pirates. But that doesn't make this biography any less swash-bucklingly gripping. A cocksure Scottish charmer, Kidd roams the ocean swapping broadsides and crossing cutlasses in fine style, and with Zacks at the helm you can smell the brine and taste the hardtack. In those days the ocean was a no-man's-land of freebooters and privateers, where everybody flew false flags and switched sides with the change of the tide. Kidd's mission ultimately founders in political waters, but Zacks's telling of it can stand with anything by Patrick O'Brian as a magnificent naval adventure.